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Ships sunk during World War II lie at the bottom of the Dunkirk Canal

Archaeologists have unearthed the British destroyer Keith, which had been lying at the bottom of the Dunkirk Canal since it was sunk during Operation Dynamo in World War II, and are working to retrieve cargo from their research vessel. The strip, which is about 100 meters long and 10 meters wide, shows traces of bombs.

According to Agence France-Presse, the warship appears in three dimensions on the screen of a geophysicist from the British government agency Historic England, which is participating in this debris transport campaign led by the French Department of Underwater Archaeology.

According to the geophysicist, a multi-beam echo sounder suspended below the boat measures the depth of the water, allowing it to create a “three-dimensional model of the sea floor and the shipwrecks there.”

“The appearance of the ship on screen,” the scientist describes, “is fascinating because these sunken ships represent a shared cultural heritage between England and France.”

The ship appears in three dimensions on the screen of Historic England’s (AFP) geophysicist.

However, Cécile Sauvage, an archaeologist at the French Department of Underwater Archeology who co-directed the search operation that began on September 25, said that despite the “enormous size” of the wreck it would “disappear little by little”. Cataloging, he explained, allows “to preserve the memory of these ships and the human history behind their wrecks.”

Operation “Dynamo,” immortalized in the 2017 film “Dunkirk,” took place from May 26 to June 4, 1940, and was represented as an attempt to evacuate Allied forces besieged by German forces in northern France. Go to England.

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In 9 days, 338,220 fighters were evacuated, most of them British, but also French (123,000) and Belgians (16,800), in unprecedented conditions and in various boats, including military ships, others fishing, barges, trawlers and soon.

The short route between Dunkirk and Dover was no more than 60 kilometers, but it was within range of the enemy guns stationed at Calais.

According to archaeologist Claire Destanquez, who co-directed the operation, “between 1,000 and 1,500 ships of all types passed through,” she explains, of which 305 were “sunk as a result of bombardment, enemy torpedoes and mines and skirmishes. Surgical panic. About 5,000 soldiers drowned.” Historian Patrick Oden of Dunkirk says:

Shipwrecks represent a shared cultural heritage between England and France (AFP)

In three weeks, two archaeologists, supported by two geophysicists, explored the North Sea to find these missing ships, the first time this had happened in French waters.

These shipwrecks have previously been discovered by volunteer divers in the area, but archaeologists must confirm the locations and compare them with archival data to formalize the identity of each wreck.

Researchers pointed to a French cargo ship about 100 meters long that had arrived from Algeria to unload supplies at Dunkirk in 1940 and was asked to evacuate 1,200 soldiers. But he drowned shortly after leaving port, the result of being struck by a mine, Claire Destancus says.

A researcher points out on screen the impact of mining on a ship found more than 80 years after it sank at sea. “The story of her drowning is very touching,” he says.

Archaeologists announced that the survey campaign had enabled them to definitively identify 27 shipwrecks sunk during Operation Dynamo.

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Wrecks of 3 other fragments were also found, but their “severe damage” required “exploration by diving” in a second research phase in 2024 to confirm their identity.

Cécile Sauvage explains that the goal of such a research campaign is “to determine the location of these remains and to develop a better idea of ​​them”. The goal is to “better protect these (antiquities), especially when implementing development projects that could destroy them, such as wind farms.”

There have been plans to install a wind farm off the coast of Dunkirk for several years.

He points out that this is an opportunity to introduce the public to this tradition, noting that “Dynamo was an important station in the Second World War”, but it is much less known in France than in Britain.

Claire Destanques explains that the ruins of these fragments, hidden under water, represent “305 stories in history”.

Stuart Wagner
Stuart Wagner
"Professional coffee fan. Total beer nerd. Hardcore reader. Alcohol fanatic. Evil twitter buff. Friendly tv scholar."

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